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Raiders go all defense on NFL draft’s second day

Updated April 30, 2021 - 9:47 pm

Facing a major need at free safety and a dwindling group of options, the Raiders made a bold move to trade up in the second round on Friday night.

As a result, they not only ended up with the player most experts believed was the best prospect at his position in the draft, but someone the Raiders contemplated trading back into the first round to get on Thursday.

It was the start of an exclusively defensive Day Two of the Raiders’ draft, with the team potentially filling their starting free safety spot, adding some punch to their pass rush and reeling in a hard-hitting defensive prospect who can play across multiple levels of their defense.

In selecting TCU’s Trevon Moehrig with the 43rd pick after moving up five spots in the second round via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, the Raiders went two-for-two in closing big holes with their first two picks in the draft. In Thursday’s first-round that meant picking Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood. On Day Two, they added Moehrig.

But it required some quick thinking after Oregon’s Jevon Holland and UCF’s Richie Grant were both selected within the first eight picks of the second round.

Sensing a run on safeties and facing the possibility of losing out on the top player on their board, they agreed to send the 48th pick in the second round and pick No. 121 in the fourth round to the 49ers in exchange for the 49ers’ picks at 43 in the second round and 230 in the seventh round.

“All of a sudden these two guys go off the board and I’m looking at my guys in the room saying, “Hey, could have a chance here with (Moehrig). Let’s see what happens,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said.

The tipping point came when the Dallas Cowboys’ draft spot at 44 began approaching.

“I’m like, Dallas is at 44, we’ve got to get ahead of them,” said Mayock. who quickly firmed up a trade with the 49ers,

In doing so, they secured a player they’ve kept tabs on almost from the beginning of the draft process and someone they believe will be a Day One starter as their deep safety in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s Cover-3 scheme.

It was a message they consistently delivered to Moehrig in their frequent visits.

“They just told me they needed a safety and that they were planning to come get me,” Moehrig said.

That set the stage for some considerable Day Two defensive tinkering with the third-round additions of Buffalo edge rusher Malcolm Koonce with the 79th pick and Virginia Tech safety Divine Deablo with the 80th pick.

All three picks — and the traits and versatility they bring — reflect the impact and input of Bradley.

Moehrig and the deep field pass coverage he provides means fellow safety Johnathan Abram can now move closer to the line of scrimmage as a box safety focused on run support and defending the pass in smaller spaces. Moehrig is also expected to eventually assume a leadership role in a young Raiders secondary.

“Coming from TCU, I was the quarterback of the defense, so I feel like I’m really confident coming in and taking that leadership role, commanding the defense and leading,” Moehrig said.

Moehrig, the 2020 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the best defensive back in the country, parlayed two dominant seasons in 2019 and 2020 into solidifying himself as the top safety prospect in the draft. Over the last two seasons, Moehrig totaled 109 tackles, six interceptions and 26 pass breakups. The pass-break-ups led the country over that span.

For months now he was considered a first-round talent and a step or two ahead of both Holland and Grant.

His fall to the second round is the result of a back injury while training. Scouts noticed during his TCU pro day that he was wearing tape, at which point the injury was revealed. A subsequent MRI revealed some issues, which prompted his slide.

Moehrig said the back is not an issue.

“I’m ready to go. I’m 100 percent. No problem,” he said.

Koonce, a 6-foot-2, two-time, first-team All-MAC selection, had 14 sacks over the last two seasons and is expected to compete for playing time in the Raiders’ pass-rush rotation.

“I pride myself on making QB’s job as hard as possible,” Koonce said.

Deablo played exclusively at free safety at Virginia Tech after being recruited as a wide receiver, eventually becoming a three-year starter while totaling 206 tackles — 12.5 of which came behind the line of scrimmage — while adding six interceptions and 17 pass breakups.

But at 6-3, 226-pounds he was talked into moving to linebacker at the Senior Bowl. The Raiders will continue that transition in the NFL.

“Matching up with tight ends and playing the run,” Deablo said. “That’s the main way they want to use me.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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